An eclectic selection of music was worked into the mix of this online gathering for reverence : a chant from the Taizé community, tracks from Johnny Cash and Billy Joel, a poem song from the musical Godspell and a hymn from one of the UK Unitarian hymnbooks, which together might appear to lend this service a cheerful sort of feel. But actually this was a service about remembrance and lamenting, making reference to loss, anger and injustice along the way.
The thrust of the gathering was about the repertoire of religious motifs we have, around which to organize our thoughts and emotions, our pain and our healing, when confronted with the griefs that have been around forever, and with the new catastrophes we are now newly beginning to suffer, as a result of our over-population and over-exploitation of the planet, and its peoples, over the last centuries.
Different religious motifs may be relevant to us at different phases of our lives, and in changing circumstances we may find those motifs changing.
Our president for the day described how for many years Christianity had had little to say to her; but that was when she had perceived the world to be in stasis, with perhaps a general, gentle drift towards reduction in injustice and improved living conditions for all. Having experienced a sudden change of perspective — which she described with reference to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, in the biblical creation story — she reported how her previously comfortable and even complacent life had been exchanged for interior discomfort with the occasional sleepless night. And she sees no prospect of any return to the previous complacency : like Adam and Eve, she feels she has left paradise for ever. And that has changed her interior landscape with regard to Christianity.
The themes of remembering the war dead associated with the Meeting House in Ringwood, which until 1976 housed a Unitarian congregation; prophetic rage at injustice and wrongdoing; and personal complicity in both evil in general and environmental destruction in particular, were all wrapped in to what was a highly personal view on how to cope when lamenting seems to be the only rational response.
"O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not listen?......Why do You make me see wrongdoing and make me look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise......In Your wrath may You also remember mercy." (from the Bible prophet, Habakkuk)
Specific motifs that seemed to help our speaker were that of Shiva the Destroyer of Worlds (Shiva Nataraja) from Hinduism, and the crucified Jesus from Christianity. Reminding us that one does not have to have a top-down theory, or theology, in order to enter contemplation via a religious motif, or to experience the love of God first-hand, she said:
“Shiva the Destroyer of Worlds is a very handy motif when reconciling my panentheism with the scientific, astronomical perspective, though it can also help when my interior world is demolished.
This Destroyer motif points at a dancing, humorous transformation — a transmogrification — rather than an annihilation....But one limitation is that this motif doesn’t show me in the picture. It heals through its logic, but not through the deep emotion of belonging.
It offers a logic but no hope.”
Our president for the day then apologized that she needed the words of someone else to present her own position regarding the crucified Jesus. She then quoted at length from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk, in his book Things Hidden — Scripture as Spirituality.
To help with this report, our speaker reviewed the quoted passage from Rohr, and has highlighted three points crucial to her, when she contemplates the crucified Jesus, and the healing this motif offers in those wee small hours of sleeplessness :
"Firstly, in the Cross, we can explicitly feel ourselves being pulled in two directions; towards God’s goodness, and towards our own complicity in evil. This could tear us apart, which is a common suffering in daily living.
Next, contemplating the Cross, we are immediately in a state of ‘not alone’-ness. We do not get onto our cross by ourselves, and on our own we cannot pull ourselves in two directions.
Finally, hanging without resolution, in the paradox of goodness and evil, on our own cross — holding the contradictions, sharing and participating in the redemption of the world, forgiving reality for being what it is — is a way of gift : the gift that, at least in us, everything belongs."